How the ‘By 35’ meme mutated from sharp commentary on the retirement crisis to literally whatever

We may have started the fire, but the internet has made it into a conflagration of its very own.

The responses have since propagated into a full-blown Twitter meme. In the space of 12 days we’ve gone from this:

I think you meant to say,

By 35 you should have debt twice your salary.

— From Russia with Love (@emanzi) May 14, 2018

By age 35 you should have forgotten how many pizzas you’ve consumed because the number is too high to count and you have better things to do like preheat the oven and eat another pizza also Twitter should’ve never given us 280 characters that was a mistake.

— DiGiorno (@DiGiorno) May 22, 2018

Memes are a dime a dozen these days — every day a new one rises up from the ashes of its predecessors. Most count their life cycles in days, maybe weeks, but rarely months or years. It won’t be long before this one, too, runs out of steam. But according to data from Twitter TWTR,  , “By 35” is still very much alive and kicking.

Since our first tweet, more than 300,000 tweets — and counting! — have been written with the words “by 35, you should...” (or “by age 35, you should...”), according to Twitter, with today seeing the highest volume of tweets per hour (approaching 5,000) that the meme has logged thus far.

As with many memes before it, the longer this one goes on, the more and more distant most of the tweets are getting from the original meaning.

The first mutation came about as people suggested other equally “attainable” goals that retirement experts no doubt have up their sleeves.

By 35, you should have at least 100lbs of vibranium in your bank account, according to retirement experts.

— Avengers’ Funeral Coordinator (@Steph_I_Will) May 16, 2018

From there came perhaps the most popular variant of the meme: a template for commenting on the harsh and laughable truths of so-called adulthood.

By age 35 you should have a huge box of cables but you can't throw them out because you're pretty sure you still need a couple of them but you're not sure which ones

— Lori G 🌸 (@LoriG) May 19, 2018

By age 35 you should have at least one fork in your cutlery drawer that you just don’t like, and actively frown at if you accidentally grab it.

— Nutella Enchanted (@chrisopotamia) May 20, 2018

By age 35 you should have approximately 10 times the existential dread you had when you graduated high school.

— Greg Hillis (@gregorykhillis) May 20, 2018

By age 35 you should run into friends and say "WE SHOULD HANG OUT SOON!" twice a week. You will never hang out. You'll just scream this at each other until one of you dies.

— Luke Trayser (@trukelayser) May 20, 2018


— DRUNK HULK (@DRUNKHULK) May 22, 2018

Naturally, the meme went political at times.

By age 35, you’re supposed to have inherited a Manhattan real estate dynasty.

— Downtown Josh Brown (@ReformedBroker) May 21, 2018

This strain about the Oxford comma has become so popular/unpopular, it has set off a Twitter storm of its own.

By 35, you should know that the Oxford comma is essential for clear, correct, and accurate writing.

— Jen Heemstra (@jenheemstra) May 21, 2018

By 50, you should realize that the Oxford comma can’t fix poor writing, and that if your sentence requires an Oxford comma to make sense, you should probably rewrite it.

— Robert Rummel-Hudson (@rumhud) May 23, 2018

Someone I work with just said “I broke up with a boyfriend over an Oxford Comma.”

— Sarah Hanisko, Ph.D. (@doctorofpeaceSH) May 23, 2018

Eventually, brands hopped on the bandwagon, wiping clean all traces of the meme’s darker origins.

By age 35, you should have eaten at least 2x your weight in guac.

— Chipotle (@ChipotleTweets) May 22, 2018

By age 35 you should probably leave the drifting to the kids, maybe try to settle down somewhere and build some sort of community, maybe spawn once or twice if that works too, but generally hope that things don't change too drastically at least for a bit you know

— Monterey Bay Aquarium (@MontereyAq) May 22, 2018

By age 35 you should have mastered your chocolate to milk ratio.

— Nesquik USA (@NesquikUSA) May 22, 2018

Well, this company kinda kept it real?

— CB Insights (@CBinsights) May 23, 2018

By age 35 you should be a cow

— The Museum of English Rural Life (@TheMERL) May 22, 2018

Ironically, given where this all started, many are now taking it on the level and talking out their #LifeGoals. It began with sharp commentary on the financial struggles that millions of Americans face today — and the retirement crisis we appear to be barreling toward. It has morphed into a template for commenting on… anything and everything, from the inevitability of death to cows.

We Want to Hear from You


Language »